Last week, Vertis and I took that long drive down Highway 59 to Houston. It sure wasn't our first trip, but we did connect with Texas once again, saw some old friends and took in the continued urban renovations in downtown Houston.
Quite honestly, we marveled at the huge number of multi-story buildings that are continuing to go up. Since the downtown resurgence began several years back, the once eyesore that was called downtown Houston has come alive with massive multi-story buildings surrounded by great landscaping programs.
Well, this was a business trip, and we stayed at a hotel adjoining the Convention Center. I attend the North American Petroleum Exposition, where over 400 companies have booths to show some 6,000 attendees oil and gas deals. Those companies are looking for investors to finance their oil and gas ventures.
It boils down to a day and a half of standing in your booth with your oil and gas maps behind you, waiting for a potential company or investor to stop by. Then you tell them why they should put up some of the drilling money to drill a well.
I'm usually hoarse after the constantly talking.
Just being back in Texas for three days brought back some memories, and since the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo was coming up at the end of the month, several pre-events were on tap. The last day we were there, one of the heritage events was underway and the dressed up folks in fancy western gear pranced through the hotel lobby. If you have seen the movie "Giant", it was something similar to when Jett Rink opened his grand hotel in Houston and all of the big wigs in Texas turned out.
Well, after a while, as the dressed up Texans in their western finery came through the lobby, we began to feel as if we were part of the movie.
Texans loves their western heritage, and the whole city turns out for the week of the Show, and the real serious folks revert to western wear. "Dress Western" is posted everywhere.
Back when we lived in Corpus Christi, my business partner and I went to Houston for an oil and gas meeting with Elf Aquitaine, a French company that we were doing business with. It concerned forming a producing unit in which we would have an interest.
Well, we were ushered into the meeting room and in walked their landman, geologist and engineer. Yes, we knew it was dress western week, but an Arkansas geologist and his Mississippi partner weren't going to join in. We had on suits and ties. But the three Frenchmen did the whole cowboy bit, with big Stetson Hats, which they kept on for the entire meeting.
We held back a smile as we sat across the table and discussed the gas field, but it wasn't just the clothing. The Frenchmen spoke English of course, but with heavy French accents. We didn't laugh until we were outside, but then we cackled.
Yes, Texas is serious about their state, and they show it, but when you have towns named Mule Shoe, Dime and Cut and Shoot, it's hard to keep a straight face.
Yes, Mule Shoe, Texas is a thriving town and the Mules are usually one of the contending football teams in their division
But the most amazing part of the trip were the number of newly constructed buildings, complete with excellent landscaping, which have gone up in downtown Houston. I've mentioned in previous columns how the area around the Convention Center has blossomed with some really significant tree planting.
A number of years back, Houston managed to hook the Super Bowl, and that started the tree planting and kicked off a building boom around the Center that has only gotten larger each year. The initial trees planted around the Convention Center are a sycamore variety and live oaks. The large mature trees that were planted in the Convention Center area have continued to fill out and the visual difference is impressive.
Evidently, the initial planting went so well that the city embarked on a concentrated effort to add to the planting. Not only have they planted more in the Convention Center area, the planting has extended throughout the city. This year, block after block has been circled with 10-plus foot trees planted 30 feet apart.
Based on just what I could see, thousands of trees have been planted. Since we come to the trade show every year, it is obvious to us that the street tree planting is now a massive citywide effort.
A little research shows an organized group called Trees for Houston has already planted 600,000 trees, and they have just initiated a five year drive to plant 100,000 more. But it's not only the city core that is receiving the trees.
The freeways that crisscross the city are now seeing thousands of trees planted in the medians and alongside the outside lane of traffic. Freeways are inherently ugly, but the thousands of new trees certainly are a welcome sight.
It has been said, "Trees are the lungs of the Earth." Quite simply, every tree planted strengthens our Earth.
Now back to the Natural State, and a glance at the highways and medians maintained by the Arkansas Highway Department tells you it's still mow, mow, mow the grass -- but plant a tree? Well, I don't want to live in Houston, but if we think just calling ourselves "The Natural State" is all you have to do, then give me a little Houston mentality. Surely to God we can do better!
Well, does the new Houston plan of 100,000 trees over five years sounds a familiar? Yes! Just a few weeks back I launched a drive to plant 100,000 trees in Arkansas over the next five years. And you know something? I'm embarrassed.
Yes, I received a lot of support for the tree planting and several donations to plant trees around our new high school campus, but not even a nod from the City of El Dorado or from not one single member of the legislature.
In El Dorado, our new high school campus remains a blank, treeless embarrassment because my offer to plant trees with the donations I received didn't even get an answer.
But while I'm pointing fingers and naming names, let me give you another example.
The El Dorado City Council, the Mayor and Public Works Director have taken a step backward. In the recent sidewalk renovation and construction of the Haywood Hotel, around 30 sidewalk trees were cut down, and many were not replaced.
But to make it even worse, the ones that replaced 20 and 30 foot sidewalk trees were replaced with two foot sprigs. If that's not an embarrassment, what is?
To compound the embarrassment, I thought they looked so bad, I volunteered to replace them. No answer.
Of course, we have the potential to plant ten trees for every one planted in the city of Houston because we are the Natural State, and we live in the trees. But we need an attitude adjustment from some of our elected officials... or maybe just some new ones.
Richard Mason is an author and speaker. He can be reached at [email protected]